What Singapore will look like in the next 50 years depends partly on the approach it takes to ageing, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said yesterday.
It might succumb to a "silver tsunami", in which the young people in a shrinking workforce shoulder the heavy burden of supporting the old.
Or Singaporeans can change their mindsets about growing older and age gracefully by playing to the strengths of a greying population.
"Older persons can be an engine for national development, contributing to our community, our society and to our economic growth, for many years," said Mr Gan, who is also Minister- in-charge of ageing issues.
"Our society can be older but no less dynamic and cohesive."
He was speaking at the Gerontological Society of Singapore's annual conference on ageing at the Marina Mandarin hotel.
Speakers addressed the issues surrounding the next 50 years of ageing in Singapore.
For the nation to age successfully, Mr Gan said that both individuals and companies must first rethink their attitudes towards work.
"Some seniors we spoke to told us that they would like to take on a mentoring or coaching role in their current companies," Mr Gan said. "Others tell us that they would like to have more flexible work arrangements... so that they can spend time with family, volunteering, or learning new things."
For employers, the challenge is to "redesign the workplace into one that is suitable for all ages", including in areas like job roles, work hours, and the work culture.
He highlighted the example of engineering firm Federal Hardware, which re-employed eight of its older staff who had reached the retirement age of 62.
Ms Tina Ng, the company's general manager of group human resources and quality logistics, said: "Some of them have been with us for years, and we find that they are still capable of performing their duties."
She said that some had also been shifted to lighter duties or more flexible hours to accommodate their wishes.
Mr Gan said the healthcare system must focus increasingly on preventive health and providing care within the community.
"By working together, we can push back the need for seniors to be institutionalised in hospitals and nursing homes for as long as possible," he said.
Most important, he concluded, is developing an "ageless mindset" in which growing old is not seen as something negative.
"The critical determinant of whether ageing will be positive for individuals and our society is in the mindset.
"We have a much higher chance of achieving successful ageing if individuals do not associate ageing with mere decline, loss of value, or worse, disability," he added.
This article was first published on March 20, 2015.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.